We are living in a time when consent is something we talk about. Most kids are hearing about this in school and on social media. The #metoo movement and others have really brought to light that our society as a whole is bad at consent and that our deeply rooted gender norms are interfering with us moving forward.
So as parents, what can we do about this? How can we contribute to these conversations? Sure, it’s great that our kids are talking about this at school and likely among their peers, but how do we make sure we’re having influence here as well? And for parents of younger kids, how do we introduce them to these ideas in a positive way early on?
Here are 7 ways to get you started…
- For younger kids – Encourage them to ask permission before touching anyone else’s body and make sure you do the same. “Let’s ask Emily if it’s ok to give her a hug goodbye” or “Grandma, let’s ask Jane if she wants a hug or high five”. Also model what to do if someone declines our touch “You don’t want a hug? That’s ok! Let’s just wave instead.”
- Teach your child the value and importance of the word no. When they say no, stop what you’re doing – even if in the middle of a tickle fight, when you’re rushing out the door, etc. Take a pause to show you value this word. Even if you need to touch your child to get where you’re going, if you pause and then explain your why, this still shows you see this as important. And when your child is playing with a friend or sibling and you hear the word no, remind them to respond in the same way – to stop what they are doing. No means no.
- Talk about facial expressions and for younger kids help them to read these expressions as a way to gage how people around them are feeling. “When your friend is making a sad face, this shows he doesn’t like something that’s happening even if he doesn’t say no. It’s important for us to ask him what’s going on so we can help make it better and all have fun.” And for older kids, when talking about a social interaction they had, remember to ask about this – what did they look like? What was their face telling you?
- Use opportunities to reflect on the media – call it out when women are degraded in a song or when a physical encounter on tv doesn’t involve consent.
- Talk about gut feelings and instinct. Help them to trust their instinct that if something doesn’t feel right, they should listen to that. If they see a friend in a compromising situation and their gut is telling them something is off, they should speak up.
- Encourage your older kids to think about the who, what, when, and why of consent and how these things matter. Each situation can change how we feel and what we consent to, even though the act may be the same. For example, your kid may consent to you kissing them on the cheek in the car before school but they may not consent to you kissing them on the cheek in front of their friends at a soccer game.
- Talk openly about partying and how this impairs our judgement. I want you to have fun with your friends but drinking really worries me. You can’t really know if you’ve had too much to drink. And if you are drinking it’s so much harder to gage if it’s ok to kiss someone, touch someone, or even have sex with someone and then regret it the next day”.
Of course, none of these suggestions are perfect for every family and you’ll find your own way to modify them that feels right for you. But this is a great way to get started. As I said from the beginning – our kids are already hearing this – so let’s not lose out on the opportunity to participate in these conversations!
Dr. Quimby is the co-founder of FemEd – a female health education platform that educates females of all ages about their bodies.
She is also a former professor at USC Keck school of Medicine where she led the OBGYN clerkship. She is passionate about education and empowering her patients and her students through knowledge and shared decision making.
She is currently a full time OBGYN at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles.
Dr. Quimby has received accolades for teaching and leadership. She has been named Top Doctor by both Pasadena and Los Angeles Magazines. She is a regular speaker throughout the community giving talks to both the public and other physicians. She has contributed to LAist, SELF, and several other news media sources.
Her special interests include: preconception counseling and improving sexual health
When she’s not educating the public on all things female health she can be found traveling with her 2 young daughters and ever supportive husband.